Campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed has issued legal proceedings against the Chancellor and in doing so will argue that the implementation of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) discriminates against women.
Represented by Leigh Day solicitors and Doughty Street barristers Jude Bunting, Clare Duffy and Donnchadh Greene, the group has applied for urgent permission for Judicial Review of the way that the scheme, which was set up to help self-employed people cope in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, operates.
Currently, self-employed women who have taken maternity leave between 2016 and 2019 lose out when claiming through the scheme because their period of leave is factored into calculations of average income.
In response to pre-action protocol letters sent by the Group, Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP has suggested that the scheme does not discriminate against women on grounds of pregnancy or maternity because the resulting dip in profits is no different to any other period of reduced or no trade for other self-employed people, such as ill-health or a holiday.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions suggest that more than. 85,000 women are believed to be affected by the measure.
Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed said:
“The Chancellor stated that maternity leave is the same as any other leave when questioned on this in Parliament. It is now clear from our exchange with the Government's legal team that this is their firm position. If this standpoint is not queried, and ultimately overturned, it sets a very dangerous precedent. Giving birth and raising the next generation is not an illness, it is critical work for a well functioning society. Both men and women get sick and go on holiday, only women take maternity leave.
“Many of the women affected by this method of calculating the SEISS, will be amongst the 54,000 per year who are pushed out of their job for daring to procreate. They become self employed as many of the jobs in our labour market don't work for people with caring responsibilities. These vulnerable new mums are therefore facing discrimination by employers and now they are facing discrimination by our Government. We are not standing for it any longer.''
Anna Dews of Leigh Day Solicitors said:
“For decades, legislators and the Courts have recognised that women require specific protection during periods of maternity leave. Despite that, the Chancellor has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the discrimination that is being caused by the way in which the SEISS is currently being implemented.”
“Pregnant Then Screwed is asking the Chancellor to take urgent steps to modify the SEISS to rectify the discrimination so that time taken for maternity leave is discounted when average earnings are calculated."
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